My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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Mary Queen of Scots drinks beer

I think it’s Thursday. No, it’s Wednesday, I’m still in Sheffield but today we are leaving for Manchester where we’re seeing the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” tonight with music by Prokofiev, which, in our long correspondence, Penny and I discovered was the favourite ballet music of us both. It has been an extraordinary experience, these last few days, living in the house of a woman I have only just met and yet feel I know deeply. The other night, she showed me slides of her family life long ago; we talked of Barbara, what she has meant to us through the years. We both wept, and then put records on the record player in her dining-room – Benny Goodman, Sixties stuff – and danced. I not only know her, I know the books on her shelves and the music in her collection; we have many of the same ideals, the things we work towards in life are the same. And yet our only bond, at first, was a sister she lost on her eleventh birthday and a penpal I lost just before my sixteenth.

She showed me Barbara’s heartbreaking last diary, the one she kept at the Mayo Clinic as they prepared her for the heart operation she would not survive. She was so small, so weak, and yet writes cheerfully about the new American foods she is eating each day and the walks her mother took her on in her wheelchair. Then she writes, we are off to the clinic, and that’s the last entry. Penny told me they decided she was so weak, they’d keep her in and get on with the operation. She survived the valve transplant, and when she awoke, was even able to gesture to her relieved mother, who had spent six years doing little but keeping Barbara alive. They announced that they would move her, and then came to tell her mother that she had died. Elsie had to pack and bring her body back, alone. Penny’s eleventh birthday, and, she said, “Every birthday ever since.”

Yesterday we spent the morning gardening, which was a treat as I’m not getting to plant my own garden this year – a pleasure to sink my hands in someone else’s dirt. We did a wash and hung it on the line, in the bright sun and fierce wind, to dry. And then we went to a sixteenth century pub for lunch, a Tudor building with sinking beams lost in the midst of industrial downtown Sheffield; the lunch wasn’t brilliant but the place, with its low ceiling, casement windows and heavy wood beams, was. And the beer was too – I asked the toothless lady publican for her recommendation of beers, and she produced a half pint of dark, frothy Highwayman – delicious. A sign on the wall said that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned nearby for years and may very well have ventured to this pub. I love the idea of Mary Queen of Scots having a half-pint of Highwayman, just like us.

Yesterday’s email brought a treat. I gather that my article entitled “The son also rises” has just come out in May’s “More” magazine – a piece about the different expectations of each generation for its children, and how perhaps the goal should be to accept our children, to see what they are rather than what they are not. A stranger wrote to tell me how disappointed she has been, as a single mother, in her two daughters, how fearful for their future, and then after reading my article, she remembered how wonderful they are too, generous and kind and brave. What a treat for a writer, to feel that the words have helped even one person on the long, difficult journey.

And now, time for my own journey, not too difficult though I hope very long, to continue.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


Coming soon

A new book by Beth Kaplan, published by Mosaic Press – “Midlife Solo”

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